Congress might try to coax distracted-driving laws
WASHINGTON — Should Congress use scarce gas tax funds to try to coax states into cracking down on distracted driving?
That’s the question before the House, which will vote this week on whether to seek to keep $78 million in “legislative candy” out of a new transportation bill.
Under the Senate transportation bill, states would receive additional funds if they outlaw texting from behind the wheel, prohibit drivers under age 18 from using cellphones of any kind while driving and take other actions to combat distracted driving.
The bill also would require states to spend a chunk of the money they receive on anti-distracted-driving programs, such as beefed-up law enforcement targeting distracted drivers and advertising on the dangers of distracted driving.
Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., is seeking to eliminate the incentive fund, calling it an effort at “federal manipulation of state law.”
“I want safety on our roads,” she said on the House floor Thursday. But Congress, she said, could “make our roads safer by making sure that our roads and our infrastructure are in the best shape,” instead of trying to entice states into passing anti-distracted driving laws as defined by Washington.
She noted that 39 states are “already doing something related to distracted driving.”
Her efforts have run into Democratic opposition.
Rep. Jason Altmire , D-Pa., said the incentive grants are “an opportunity to address the rapidly growing problem of distracted driving.”
States are “free to pass any distracted-driver laws they wish or not,” he said Thursday. Although some Republicans, he said, “are skeptical of seemingly every federal program, we must avoid the temptation to eliminate programs without considering the real impacts they have on the lives of our constituents and on communities all across America.”
Absent a transportation bill, the government’s authority to collect gasoline taxes and fund projects expires on Saturday.